Every January, gazillions of people make a resolution to get off the list of roughly 60 million obese American adults. Others resolve never to join this group whose numbers are unforgivingly tabulated by the National Center for Health Statistics. And so, each New Year comes the annual march of cross-trainer-clad lemmings to a sea of […]

Every January, gazillions of people make a resolution to get off the list of roughly 60 million obese American adults. Others resolve never to join this group whose numbers are unforgivingly tabulated by the National Center for Health Statistics. And so, each New Year comes the annual march of cross-trainer-clad lemmings to a sea of cardiovascular equipment.

Luckily for the health club regulars who don’t care for the ensuing overcrowding, America’s annual obsession with health is short-lived, and after a few weeks, the majority of novice exercisers hang up their Nikes and go back to gorging on Big Macs and a couch potato life. Until the next January.

Now, I am no workout neophyte. In my mid-20s, after ballooning to 30 pounds above my ideal playing weight of 185 (back in freshman year at Marquette University), I decided that being winded after a couple of flights of stairs was a little ridiculous. So I joined a health club and started a workout plan that was an amalgamation of programs I picked up in high school and college.

After 10 years of these haphazard workouts, I was again lulled into laziness and began rising perilously close to the 220s. So I decided it was time to refocus and fine-tune my sloppy, inconsistent and occasionally nonexistent workout routine. But how?

I could try spinning, an aerobics workout where a stationary bike, background music and an instructor barking out inspiration combine for one hour of brutality. Nah, too hard-core. No one needs to see me puke.

Or yoga. The ancient exercise certainly would help my strength, balance and inner self. But I’m not flexible enough and was never very good at Twister.

Pilates? This mind/body workout concentrates on strengthening core muscles in the stomach and back and stresses proper breathing and body positioning. Way too technical.

Or find a personal trainer, someone to guide me through a similar but more productive workout than the one I’ve been stuck on for 10 years. Hmm, maybe.

Enter Scott Synold, an energetic, friendly trainer at the impressive Form & Fitness club (2020 Cheyenne Ct., Grafton). He also is the director of the Parisi Speed School, a program designed to improve youth speed and performance.

Personal trainers carry their résumé on their skeletal frame. Synold is absolutely ripped, with the body fat percentage of Paris Hilton on a diet. While Synold’s muscles seem to be sculpted from granite, some of mine had begun to resemble flesh-colored Jell-O.

Synold has been a personal trainer since 1999. He competed in the decathlon for the University of Wisconsin track and field team and still holds the state high school record pole vault mark of 15 feet, 7 inches set in 1994 as a senior at Wauwatosa West. His enviable physique and solid training background convinces me to give Synold a try.

The program Synold (aka: Workout Guru) suggests when we meet at Form & Fitness looks simple enough: a station-to-station format that involves 10 to 15 repetitions working on seven specific muscle groups with three minutes of running scattered in between. When finished (the final exercise in this case is sit-ups), the whole thing starts over again. Synold suggests doing each set of exercises two to three times.

“I have found that circuit training with a cardio element in between the strength training side of it works best,” says the Workout Guru. You elevate your heart rate and increase blood flow to your muscles while burning calories on a cardiovascular level and “waking up your brain neurologically,” Synold adds. The approach works for the soccer mom that needs to lose 10 pounds or the guy who has been sitting on the couch watching football too much, he notes.

“We’re trying to change people’s mentality that ‘I have to be on the treadmill for two hours.’” With a station-to-station workout, Synold explains, “you don’t get bored; it’s not monotonous. It keeps you moving, keeps it fun.” Fun in this case being a relative term.

After my short tutelage, and armed with an illustrated printout of exactly which exercises I need to do, I begin the Synold Plan. I don my new Adidas shorts, strap my iPod Shuffle to my arm and strut into the weight room.
1. Chest press: No problem pushing 65 pounds 15 times.
2. Rear delt machine: It’s a cakewalk lifting 50 pounds 15 times. So far, so good. Is that all you’ve got, Synold?
3. Shoulder press: 60 pounds 12 times. I feel like a slacker.
4. Treadmill: Three minutes at seven miles per hour with a slight incline. The treadmill is where I start to feel the workout. My heart rate increases, and it’s clear to me (and my profusely sweating body) that I am burning calories.
5. Bicep curls: Maybe I’m a little dizzy and delusional from the treadmill, but I set the curl machine for 75 pounds and quickly discover that’s about 15 pounds too much.
6. Triceps extension: I knew these would be trouble. I have always ignored triceps work largely because I don’t like dips, pull-downs or any of the other triceps-building work. I manage 10 repetitions at 50 pounds. Put triceps extension in the “needs work” category.
7. Leg press: I’ve always been a fan of this machine, so the minor hit to my masculinity by the triceps machine is quickly remedied after I stack 170 pounds on the leg press and manage 15 repetitions, while alerting others to my prowess with several purposeful clangs of the metal plates.
8. Treadmill (again): Be advised: It’s best not to act like a tough guy doing leg presses when the next step is three more minutes on the treadmill. My second running stint is a little rough due to the fact that my legs feel as immovable as cement. (There goes the old confidence level.)
9. Sit-ups: Not the touch-your-knees-with-your-elbows variety but tougher ones that require holding my position halfway through a normal sit-up 10 times. Nausea ensues.

My smug “I conquered that workout” demeanor after finishing the sit-ups quickly disappears with the realization that I’m halfway done and need to repeat the entire circuit.

The second go-around is simply exhausting. I do not collapse in the middle of the gym to wail, “I can’t go any further!” (This is, however, considered.) I do manage to become something of a curiosity to a 50-year old guy on a treadmill nonplussed by my frequent but short-lived trips to the machine next to his.

I anticipated that the Synold Plan would be easy for a workout veteran (sort of) like myself. I was wrong. Two sets of the workout take just 40 minutes, but my drenched T-shirt and jelly-like arms are indicators that the circuit training has done the trick. I feel the burn. Oh, do I feel it.

After grinding through the two-set workouts in the first week, it is now time to step it up a notch and try the ominous three-set workout. That’s right – three times through Synold’s fitness gauntlet.

On a Saturday morning, I gear up for this test of stamina, this dark journey of my fitness soul. The first two runs through the workout are business as usual, and the third set starts smoothly. But the leg press and final three minutes of running take their toll. I am weak and tired, physically and mentally. Finishing requires determination and a healthy dose of Jane’s Addiction on the iPod. (Dave Navarro’s heavy guitar work on “Mountain Song” is about as inspirational as it gets in my iTunes library.)

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And so I succeed. Once this workout becomes part of my routine, it gets a little easier. I like the weight machines the Synold Plan has me on, but if boredom ensues he offers to provide an entirely new set of exercises.

“I’ll switch it up every week,” says the workout guru. “You keep people in the game by making it fun – if they don’t know what’s coming next.”

A Diet, Darn It
Unfortunately, it takes more than exercise to get in shape. “Ninety percent is what you put in your mouth,” Synold explains, as a look of disappointment creeps across my face. “If you are doing the workout twice a week, have one day of cardio and watch what you’re eating, you’ll see results in the first week.”

The horror, watching what I eat. I’m someone who considers green a repulsive color for food and likes salads only when prefaced by the words “chicken” or “potato.”

Synold makes eating right easier by making me write down everything I eat each day. This helps in two ways. First, he gives me feedback on what needs to be added or omitted from my diet.

Example #1: E-mail from Workout Guru says “reduce the amount of breads and pastas you are consuming. Processed white flour is just not of any nutritional value.” Ouch. I love pasta, and it seems to go so well with a half-loaf of French bread.

Example #2: Guru says “increase the amount of leafy greens, i.e., spinach, romaine lettuce, broccoli, green beans, asparagus and snap peas.” I will surely need to have my gag reflex disconnected through surgery. Is that procedure covered by my insurance?

I confess it is easier to eat healthy when forced to view my diet on paper. The word “cheeseburger” only need appear once to make me look bad. And it doesn’t take a nutrition degree to know that “pizza” doesn’t equal weight loss.

After three weeks on the Synold Plan, I drop three pounds and seem to be improving my Jell-O-like muscle tone. That’s a start, and the success stories of others who’ve worked with personal trainers leave me encouraged that my playing weight of 185 didn’t disappear forever along with the now-torn-down Avalanche Bar (Marquette’s venerable dive, where a good portion of my additional 30 pounds was added in college).

Tia Gress, a 47-year-old from Mequon, lost 111 pounds in the past two years working with a personal trainer. “It made me accountable to that one person,” she says.

John Arneson went from 285 pounds to 175 pounds in little more than a year following Synold’s instructions. The 42-year-old from Waukesha keeps old pictures around as a reminder of his heavier self. “I’ll often run into people who haven’t seen me lately and don’t recognize me,” he exults.

I’ll be happy to lose 20 pounds and promise myself I’ll stick it out. But for those who can’t afford it or are not comfortable with the idea of a personal trainer, probably the best bet is to find the right health club.

Clubs, Clubs, Clubs
Milwaukee has an amazing number of options, considering most of the nation views Wisconsinites as brat-munching, beer-swilling tubbies. Typically, local clubs have the standard cardiovascular equipment (treadmills, stationary bikes, elliptical machines), free and machine weights and workout classes. Pick one that fits the budget and is conveniently located, and you, too, can feel the burn.

Wisconsin Athletic Club
The sprawling and sparkling North Shore Wisconsin Athletic Club is the latest addition to the largest privately-owned athletic club in Wisconsin (7601 N. Port Washington Rd.). The WAC has six locations and plans to add a seventh in Schlitz Park in 2007.

The North Shore’s massive workout room is filled with state-of-the-art cardiovascular and weight equipment – so new that the sleek machines look alien and the simple act of raising the seat on a shoulder press leaves me so bewildered I conk my head on the bar. There’s a pair of pools, a basketball court, rooms for group fitness classes and extremely cool locker rooms that include small flat-screen TVs on the walls and a stand-up tanning bed that looks like it came from the same shiny planet as the weight machines.

All of the WAC’s suburban locations are family-friendly and offer daycare, while Downtown (411 E. Wisconsin Ave.) is for the adults. The crowds are manageable and contain inordinately few iron-pumping meatheads. West Allis (1939 S. 108th St.) is a veritable workout 7-Eleven, open 24 hours a day on weekdays. Can’t sleep? Hit the treadmill for a half-hour or bench press a few hundred pounds. It’s healthier than counting sheep – or calories. ($75 joining fee; $69 per month; discounts available; www.thewac.com.)

Bally Total Fitness (five locations)
If you need extra incentive to ensure that your workout plan doesn’t give way to Cheetos and naps, this national chain strongly encourages the use of a personal trainer (who’ll shame you if you start slacking). You even get a one-workout free trial with a trainer on your first day as a member. Also, the two-year membership plan rewards you with a substantial rate reduction if you stick it out for 24 months.

The West Allis club (901 S. 60th St.) is loaded with bicycles, treadmills and elliptical machines. A second floor has weights, a large studio and a running track. A pool, sauna, a few other workout studios and a racquetball court are also included in the airy space.

A Fitness Formula store inside Bally’s sells PowerBars, Gatorade and Sam’s Club-sized containers of nutritional supplements. Need a crate of Myoplex meal-replacement mix? This store is for you. ($150 joining fee; $57 per month for two years; $29 per month after that; discounts available; www.ballytotalfitness.com.)

Elite Clubs (four locations)
The tennis-playing set needs a place to work out, too.

Actually, Elite Clubs have surprisingly more to offer than just racquet sports.

The North Shore (5750 N. Glen Park Rd.) location does have 10 impeccably maintained tennis courts and three racquetball courts, but there’s also a basketball court and a large cardiovascular and weight machine area filled with brand-new equipment (I just love the treadmills with mini TVs attached to the front). Perhaps most impressive are the group classes. The exclusive “Gravity” class employs a machine with an inclined gliding backboard attached by pulleys to a pair of cables with grips at one end (vaguely resembling a sleek version of a medieval torture device). The machine will give you a great workout. There are also private and group Pilates sessions, which use a piece of equipment with the frightening moniker “The Reformer.” (This surely is a medieval torture device, similar to the gravity board, but it lies flat and includes some sort of apparatus to secure the feet. Although I didn’t see it, I’m sure there’s a muzzle of some sort to prevent screaming.)

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If The Reformer gets the best of you, the North Shore and Highlander Elite (13825 W. Burleigh Rd.) offer Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation Therapy Clinics (SMART), ideal for when you overdo it. Certified professionals provide physical therapy, chiropractic work, diet and nutrition information, massage therapy, even acupuncture. ($300 joining fee; $62 per month; www.eliteclubs.com.)

Milwaukee Athletic Club
A mad scientist obsessed with fusing together a country club and a YMCA founded the Milwaukee Athletic Club in 1882. Actually, it was just eight guys who wanted a place to do “gymnastics and other exercises.” With its plush red carpet, leather chairs and library (complete with fireplace and a small selection of books) in the lobby, and its large ballrooms and Bali Grill restaurant located on the third floor, “athletic club” seems like false advertising. Put it this way: It takes a lot of minutes on the treadmill to work off the wine and cheese.

The MAC (758 N. Broadway) does have workout areas with standard cardio equipment and weight machines, and the rooms are separated by gender so men and women can grunt and sweat without offending each other. A lap pool and cool rustic wood-floor basketball court (complete with dead spots) provide other ways to burn calories, as does a large steam room (one of the more popular “exercise” areas for members).

Fitness classes give members a chance to socialize while sweating, and the club offers less strenuous group activities like trips to Badgers football games, a chess club, wine dinners and, believe it or not, etiquette lessons for the kids. (Sponsorship is required to become a member; www.macwi.org.)

Curves for Women (24, yes 24 locations)
Curves are popping up in strip malls and storefronts all over town. What’s going on behind the closed doors? Women are working out, safe from the leering stares of sweat-stained guys. Curves are strictly testosterone-free. The station-to-station workout involves 30 seconds of weight training with hydraulic resistance machines followed by 30 seconds of “recovery time” (which can include running in place or talking to the woman on the next mat about the latest “Desperate Housewives”). An entire aerobic and strength-training workout takes just 30 minutes.

While experts disagree as to how effective and aerobic a Curves workout is, the company must be doing something right – it’s the world’s largest fitness franchise. ($150 joining fee; $29 per month; www.curves.com.)

YMCA (10 Locations)
It’s the meat and potatoes of fitness clubs and has been around since the mid-1800s. It was a Y in Springfield, Massachusetts, where Dr. James Naismith invented a little game called basketball in 1891, and it was the YMCA that was immortalized (more or less) by the Village People’s disco classic in 1978.

The YMCA leads the way in the “family friendly” department, with an emphasis on kids’ health, whether it’s through swimming lessons at the Brown Deer branch’s Schroeder Aquatic Center (9250 N. Green Bay Rd.), day programs in the summer or the NEW (Nutrition, Exercise and Weight Management) Kids Program, which teaches them about exercise and nutrition. The YMCAs have a mission of community improvement.

That doesn’t mean the YMCA lacks offerings for adults. The West Suburban Y (2420 N. 124th St.) is loaded with exercise opportunities and has a large cardiovascular and weight machine area, a pool, several basketball courts and an indoor track. For those who want fewer kids and more pretty people, there’s the Downtown location (161 W. Wisconsin Ave.). ($60 joining fee; $50 to $64 per month; discounts available; www.ymcamke.org.)

Kidz In Shape
As the name suggests, it’s just for kids. Trainer and baby-sitter Emily Swofford spends her day here, guiding five- to 13-year-olds through a 30-minute exercise routine while simultaneously making sure everyone behaves (3930 N. Brookfield Rd.).

If Willy Wonka made exercise equipment instead of Everlasting Gobstoppers, the result would be the machines here. For example, the shoulder press, named “Leonard” by the Italian company Panatta Sport that makes it, is small enough for an Oompa-Loompa. The mechanics are enclosed in a white fiberglass exterior; it has a bright orange and yellow seat and includes a pair of yellow knobs on the top that make it resemble a large bug.

When kids are done with odd-looking weight equipment, they work up a sweat on an eight-foot-tall rock wall or with Dance Dance Revolution. This video game allows participants to make a character on the screen dance by jumping on arrows on a pad on the floor. There’s also a pair of mini recumbent bikes wired to Playstation’s Gran Turismo car-racing game. The faster kids pedal, the faster their car on the flat-screen TV goes. (Why can’t we adults get some fun machines like this for working out?)

“It’s a great place for social interaction,” says Swofford while throwing a Nerf football to a waiting throng of 10-year-olds. “It’s not all about the physical, but it is all about fun.” ($50 joining fee; $50 per month; www.kidzinshape.com.)

Duke Roufus Gym
There’s nothing unusual about a workout that kicks your ass. But Duke Roufus Gym offers one that teaches you how to kick ass (320 N. 76th St.). It’s run by Duke Roufus, a freaking four-time World Heavyweight Kickboxing champion. He’s a guy who can pummel an opponent with roundhouse kicks and right hooks and look graceful doing it. Despite his amiable and soft-spoken nature, Roufus knows roughly 1,500 different ways to seriously injure you.

During kickboxing classes, Roufus, looking like a martial arts version of Rocky in a dark stocking cap and blue kickboxing shorts, takes time with each of the 20 or so participants to correct their form. In an adjacent room, head boxing instructor Scott Cushman works with his class of roughly 12 beginning boxers as they hit heavy bags. The tattooed and bald Cushman is a former Golden Gloves boxer and an intimidating presence but hardly menacing as he quietly instructs a grade-school-age girl on how to throw a punch.

The classes are a cross-cultural mix of men and women, kids and adults, people training for actual kickboxing competition and those who simply want to get in shape. Former Bucks center Joel Przybilla and current Buck Ruben Patterson are clients. Professional fighters like “Savage” Dan Lasavage and amateur fighter Kyle Weickhardt train next to a 52-year-old electrician named Enrico, and Cheryl Clancy, a principal with Milwaukee Public Schools.

“The environment is very accepting,” says Clancy. “Duke never gave up on me and pushed me to do what I have to do. I was never into exercise or sports. When I was a girl, girls didn’t kick box.” ($50 joining fee; $80-$100 monthly; discounts available; www.dukeroufusgym.com.)

Dan Murphy is a Milwaukee-based freelance writer. Photographed by Tim Evans